Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Numbers 23: 1–12

Numbers 23:1–12: Balak and Balaam—Balaam’s First Oracle


Balak has finally got Balaam to come, even though he has vowed to only say what the LORD commands him to say. When we last left them, in the last passage, they were at a spot where Balaam could look out and see a portion of the Israelites.

Now Balaam is ready to get down to business. He instructs Balak to build seven altars, and sacrifice a bull and a ram on each altar. Once that is complete, Balaam goes off to a “barren height” (verse 3), to wait and see if the LORD will come to meet with him.

The LORD does, and Balaam tells Him what he has done, in preparing the seven altars, and the sacrifices. The LORD puts a message into Balaam’s mouth, and instructs him to go back and give it to Balak.

So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the princes of Moab. Then Balaam uttered his oracle:
  “Balak brought me from Aram,
  the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
  ‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
  come, denounce Israel.’

How can I curse
  those whom God has not cursed?
  How can I denounce
  those whom the LORD has not denounced?

From the rocky peaks I see them,
  from the heights I view them.
  I see a people who live apart
  and do not consider themselves one of the nations.

Who can count the dust of Jacob
  or number the fourth part of Israel?
  Let me die the death of the righteous,
  and may my end be like theirs!”

(verses 6–10)

Understandably, Balak is not happy with this oracle. In verse 11 he says “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” But Balaam answers that he is only able to speak what the LORD puts in his mouth.


Just in case I haven’t made things clear enough, here is what is going on: Balak wants to go to war with the Israelites, but he is afraid that their got might be more powerful than his, based on all of the nations they’ve been beating lately. So he plans to get their god on his side—that will leave the Israelites godless, and he will be able to defeat them.

What Balak doesn’t realize—and what should seem obvious to us—is that the LORD of the Israelites is not just another “god”—He is the one, true, and only God of the universe. Whatever “god” Balak might be worshipping is no god at all, whereas God is real, and is in control of everything.

Balak is half right; if the LORD were on his side, he would be able to beat the Israelites. But the LORD has chosen the Israelites as His people, so Balak has no hope of defeating them.

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